June is senior’s month and my goal had been to write about something senior related. I still will before the month is over since I’ve been asked to contribute an article for a senior based publication of some kind. They want to hear stories and you know, I’ve got a lot of them.
The problem is, while I’m thinking of these stories to write, I keep getting distracted. I’m distracted by the RCMP funeral for the three officers shot in the line of duty. I’m distracted by the Oregon school shooting this week and the LA police ambush earlier in the week. I’m distracted by the photo of the police dog sniffing his former handler’s Stetson while walking behind the casket. Seriously, if that picture doesn’t make you weepy, I don’t know what would. I’m distracted by the image of thousands of officers marching in unison with no other sound as they slowly work their way towards the funeral. I can still hear and remember the feeling from that sound. It’s powerful and it feels very sombre.
And then I saw a tweet that said, “a lot going on this week to trigger you, please take care”. It wasn’t directed at me personally but at everyone in general and they were quite right.
So maybe before I move on, I need to take some time to talk about what is happening right now, and that is trauma and grief. There sure seems to be a wave of shooting related deaths. Maybe once upon a time, shooting deaths were reserved for shoot ’em out scenarios between gangsters, cowboys and / or police but now, you just have to be there. You could be eating lunch like they were in Los Angeles; or going to school like they were in Oregon. By the Grace of God is the start of a phrase used often meaning, it could have just as easily been you there instead of this other person.
Grief doesn’t get much ‘air time’. It’s not “sexy” and it’s not alarming and it’s not eye-catching. It’s quiet and reserved and private in many cases. It’s also not always very well understood.
There are no set stages for grief like they used to promote “back in the day”. People turn towards and away from their grief as they feel able to cope. This is viewed as quite normal and healthy and part of the grieving process for many. One of the challenges with what our loved ones and our nation is facing right now is the nature and the cause of the grief. Shooting deaths are often intentional deaths – at least nowadays. Often, one person has deliberately caused the sudden death of another, in these recent cases, innocent people. This intentional purpose behind the death can change things for those who are grieving. They not only have the grief of their loved one, they also have to deal with an offender, lots and lots of media, everyone’s opinion on the event – often public opinion and court systems that are not victim friendly nor are they about the victims at all. For the most part, there are some common themes that people seem to face when struggling with the tragic death of a loved one.
1. The world stops. Well, the world stops for you that is but not for everyone else and that doesn’t make sense. Your world is upside down, frozen in time and yet other people are carrying on as if life is normal. How can that be? For some people it can lead to feelings of disorientation and isolation from others.
2. Who am I anyway? Sometimes we don’t like who we become when we’re grieving. We don’t feel like ourselves, we don’t react like we would normally do and there are times when we don’t like ourselves (or others) very much. This is often a temporary place to be but how long you stay there is very independent.
3. Looking backwards before moving forwards. It seems to be a common theme that many people have a tendency to look back in time at how things were or used to be before finding the strength to look forward at how things are now. Life is not the same looking forward.
4. Patience. I’ve heard from others (and read in other publications) that most of the general public will give you about a month or so to grieve and then people somehow magically expect you to pick up and move on. After that window of time, others start to get impatient with the grieving process (aren’t you done yet???)
5. Molasses brain. That’s what I call it. It’s like someone poured a jug of molasses over your brain and things just don’t quite work right. Making decisions is really hard. You don’t trust your own choices all of a sudden. Doing more than one thing at once – pfft – forget it. It’s common to have difficulty even finishing one simple task, no matter how skilled we might have been in the past at achieving great things. Shock and trauma really impact our cognitive abilities for some time. On average, it can take around 6 – 8 weeks before things feel like they’re starting to work again. In some cases that is quicker and in some that is longer. This is one of those ‘time’ things that do get better with time.
There’s no right or wrong way for dealing with grief. It’s something that is personal and private and does take time no matter how cliche’ish that is. So while none of us can ever tell you how to grieve, we can all learn a little bit about it so that we can have patience while you grieve. My heart and thoughts are with all of those who are struggling as a result of these tragic shootings. As a colleague here is fond of saying; My Strength To You.